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Posts Tagged ‘My Reading Life’

Author Pat Conroy’s funeral was today after announcing just a month ago that he had pancreatic cancer. Here’s a quote I pulled for a post back in 2012 that’s one of my favorite illustrations of what writers do.

“On my first night in Vienna, Jonathan [Carroll, author of Bones of the Moon] walked me down to the Danube, where we sat on a flight of steps leading down to the river. The dog walkers were out in force. Greetings were exchanged with small movements of the eyes, and the dogs sniffed one another fondly. Handsome and imperial, Jonathan looked every inch the American expatriate. He exuded a serenity and a seriousness that I lack. But he kept his eye on a woman at the next bridge. She was moving so slowly I though she might be leading a dogsled pulled by escargots. After an hour, the woman walked in front of us, and she bowed her head in acknowledgment of Jonathan. With great dignity, he returned the gesture. To my surprise, she was walking two enormous tortoises, displaced natives from an Ethiopian desert. The woman walked them every night, and Jonathan was always there to admire their passage. 

 “‘That’s what writers do, Conroy,’ he said. ‘We wait for the tortoises to come. We wait for that lady who walks them. That’s how art works. It’s never a jackrabbit, or a racehorse. It’s the tortoises that hold all the secrets. We’ve got to be patient enough to wait for them.'”
Pat Conroy
My Reading Life 

Related posts:
Pat Conroy & Rehearsing for Death
Screenwriting & Cancer
What’s Your Problem?
Ralph Clemente (1943-2015) A film professor of mine who died last year from pancreatic cancer.
Apple, Steve Jobs & Dying
Don’t Waste Your Life

Scott W. Smith

 

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“On my first night in Vienna, Jonathan [Carroll, author of Bones of the Moon] walked me down to the Danube, where we sat on a flight of steps leading down to the river. The dog walkers were out in force. Greetings were exchanged with small movements of the eyes, and the dogs sniffed one another fondly. Handsome and imperial, Jonathan looked every inch the American expatriate. He exuded a serenity and a seriousness that I lack. But he kept his eye on a woman at the next bridge. She was moving so slowly I though she might be leading a dogsled pulled by escargots. After an hour, the woman walked in front of us, and she bowed her head in acknowledgment of Jonathan. With great dignity, he returned the gesture. To my surprise, she was walking two enormous tortoises, displaced natives from an Ethiopian desert. The woman walked them every night, and Jonathan was always there to admire their passage. 

     ‘That’s what writers do, Conroy,’ he said. ‘We wait for the tortoises to come. We wait for that lady who walks them. That’s how art works. It’s never a jackrabbit, or a racehorse. It’s the tortoises that hold all the secrets. We’ve got to be patient enough to wait for them.'”
Pat Conroy
My Reading Life 

P.S. Not much I can add to that, except to say one of the most memorable moments of my life was when I was a youth and my cousins took me to Melbourne Beach, Florida one night. We waited as large Loggerhead sea turtles came out of the darkness onto the beach. They dug holes and laid eggs. unbelievably memorable. One of the benefits of growing up before cable TV. If you’re ever in Brevard Country between June and June check out the Sea Turtle Preservation Society to learn about turtle walks to observe the nesting. Until then, keep an eye out for those metaphorical tortoises.

Scott W. Smith

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Tell me a story, to me, are still four of the most beautiful words in our language. I remember my grandfather, I would ask him those words—’Tell me a story grandaddy.’ And he would tell me one. In the south, especially the rural south, the telling of stories on porches—that passing down of oral history by telling stories is still the reason the South retains its love of story. Retains the mystery of story.  And I don’t know any Southerner who does not love to exchange tales, tall tales. And I think the words ‘tell me a story’ has formed the entire basis of my art.”
Pat Conroy (The Great Santini, The Prince of Tides)
My Reading Life/ CD interview

Below is a prime example of a tall tale. It was based on the book Big Fish:A Novel of Mythic Proportions by Southerer Daniel Wallace. Wallace had five novels rejected before Big Fish got published in 1998. The movie version Big Fish was written by John August and directed by Tim Burton. August is the one who was captivated by the book and set things in motion for it to become a movie.

“The writing was simple, and weird, and imaginative. It clearly offered a lot of cinematic moments. But what attracted me most were the things that weren’t even on the page. I knew that the son, Will, was a reporter in Paris, married to a pregnant French woman. That’s nowhere in the story, but I was absolutely certain it was true. There wasn’t a circus anywhere in the book, yet I immediately sensed where it would fit. In short, I knew so much about the story I wanted to tell that I had to write the script immediately.”
John August

P.S. I always like to point out that John August, like Diablo Cody, went to college in Iowa. (He did his undergrauate work at Drake University in Des Moines.)

Scott W. Smith

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“I wrote to explain my own life to myself, stories are the vessels I use to interpret the world to myself.”
Pat Conroy

On Wednesday I was on the final stretch of road trip where I was shooting footage for a couple of clients when I pulled into Oskaloosa, Iowa. It’s become a favorite stop of mine while in Southern Iowa. An Oasis of sorts. Located between Des Moines and Iowa City it has a town square guarded by a statue of Chief Mahaska of the Iowa Tribe. Oskaloosa was once a wealthy coal mining town and much of its architecture reflects its 19th century prosperity.

In fact, when snow covers the town square in Oskaloosa and Christmas lights drape the surrounding trees for a moment one could think they were in Aspen, Colorado—minus the mountains, the celebrities, and the billionaires. But my favorite thing about Oskaloosa is The Book Vault—a three story bookstore in a converted historic bank building. It’s not only my favorite bookstore in Iowa, but on my top ten list in the United States. (A list that also happens to include the Explore Booksellers on Main St. in Aspen—a remnant of old Aspen.)

The Book Vault —Oskaloosa, Iowa

As I pulled into Oskaloosa I was listening to a radio interview with Laura Hillenbrad on her new book,  Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival which sounds even more powerful than her book Seabiscuit. The Book Vault did not have any copies available of Unbroken, but I did pick up the audio version of Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life. (Bonus: Unabridged and read by the author.)

Listening to the first couple chapters made my remaining hours driving fly by. I learned that Conroy in his youth spent time in my hometown of Orlando, calling the small city in its pre-Disney days “a backwater city dimpled with lakes.” Conroy’s turning of a phrase is one of the things that makes his writing so enjoyable. He calls the book Gone with the Wind, “The Iliad with a southern accent” and “an anthem of defiance.”

Several of his novels have been made into movies: Conrack, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, The Water is Wide. If you’re keeping track of great writers who were educated in Catholic schools, and who have struggled with alcohol and depression then you can add Conroy to your list. Mix in a dysfunctional family upbringing in general—specfically some serious father issues—and a lifelong daily habit of reading 200 pages a day and you have another powerful combination for storytelling.

My Reading Life was just published last week, so here are two quotes hot off the presses:

“My attraction to story is a ceaseless current that runs through the center of me. My inexhaustible ardor for reading seems connected to my hunger for storylines that show up in both books and in the great tumbling chaos of life.”
Pat Conroy
My Reading Life

“The most powerful words in English are ‘Tell me a story,’ words that are intimately related to the complexity of history, the origins of language, the continuity of the species, the taproot of our humanity, our singularity, and art itself. I was born into the century in which novels lost their stories, poems their rhymes, paintings their form, and music its beauty, but that does not mean I had to like that trend or go along with it.  I fight against these movements with every book I write.”
Pat Conroy
My Reading Life

Van Gogh once said he’d be content with a Rembrandt painting and bread. I’m sure there are a few people out there that feel the same way about Conroy.

P.S. Does Oskaloosa, Iowa have a Hollywood connection? Of course. It’s the home of Musco Lighting which has won both an Academy Award and an Emmy Award. It provided lighting sytems for the movies Titanic, Road to Perdition, and Pearl Harbor.  It’s also where film, TV and radio writer Bill S. Ballinger (Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Operation C.I.A.) was born in 1912. The town was mentioned in the short story What She Wore by Edna Febner (Show Boat, Giant).

The picture below which I took on Wendesday is not Oskaloosa, but the similar town of Albia about 30 miles away.

Albia, Iowa

Scott W. Smith



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